Impose political conditionality on Uganda and lose a reliable partner

Western powers who created Museveni and depend on him for advancing their economic and political interests in Africa do not know how to handle him and Museveni knows it. The economic and political quagmire unfolding in Uganda has become an embarrassment to donors who praised Uganda sky high in the international media and international conferences as an economic and political success story in a continent mired in poverty, hunger, illiteracy, disease, conflicts, refugees and IDPs. Increasing diseases of poverty, the harassment of political opponents including whipping them in public and accumulation of political, economic and military power by Museven’s family and those close to him have betrayed donors’ quick conclusions about Uganda’s success stories and Museveni’s unparalleled quality of leadership in Uganda and beyond. Because donors needed Museveni they overlooked Uganda’s failures including adherence to IMF recommendations such as the maintenance of a balanced budget. IMF cut off assistance to Obote II regime for failure to adhere to the maintenance of a balanced budget.

Donors imposed political conditionality and cut off, reduced or suspended aid to some African countries including Kenya, Malawi and Rwanda but did not do so for Uganda of Museveni. Donors applied double standards because Museveni was important to them. When Paul Ssemogerere, a presidential candidate against Museveni in the 1996 elections complained to the European Union Parliamentary Committee on Development and other bodies that Museveni had rigged the election he was advised by donors not to contest but accept defeat and Museveni’s presidential victory. With similar backing from donors, Museveni rigged subsequent elections in 2001 and 2006. He is expected to rig even more in 2011. Two factors have made Museveni the darling of the west.

First, after the failure of structural adjustment in Ghana which had been presented as a success story and a star pupil, donors turned their attention to Uganda, determined to do what it takes to not fail again. Because tax payers in donor countries were increasingly becoming concerned that Africa was not making progress in spite of continuous international assistance, western governments wanted Uganda to succeed so that Uganda’s progress could be used to convince tax payers that Africa was turning the corner on its way to recovery and sustained and sustainable growth and development for which continued international assistance was essential. Some failures in Uganda’s economic and political processes were overlooked. For example, “One British economist working in the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning claimed that in reality Uganda did not exactly follow IMF recommendations, but because the government could bring about good results, donors overlooked this point” (The Journal of Modern African Studies Volume 37 Number 4 Cambridge University Press 1999). Yet IMF terminated assistance to Obote II regime for not meeting one of its recommendations even when his economic program was making good progress! Kenneth Ingham, 1994 and Nelson Kasfir reported positive economic outcomes. Kasfir observed that in June 1981 the government of Obote II took and implemented the advice of the IMF. Government policies dramatically reduced the black market and high producer prices stimulated an increase in the production and export of coffee and consequent expansion in government revenue. The economy achieved an impressive GDP growth rate of 5 percent per annum (Current History April 1985).

Museveni, his ministers and senior civil servants were invited to major summits and conferences including the G8 to make statements about the economic success story in Uganda. Before such meetings the IMF or World Bank or the media would publish reports and stories about how Uganda was doing so well economically. These reports and stories focused more on economic growth, per capita income, inflation control, privatization and liberalization of Uganda’s economy and export diversification than on social and ecological indicators.

As Ellen Hauser observed “Uganda’s overall success was important because of donor governments’ need to have success stories, especially in Africa. Some donor officials stressed the importance of Uganda succeeding so that it could be a role model for other African countries… Besides being a role model, Uganda’s success satisfied donor needs in other ways. Western donor aid agencies must justify their programs to legislatures and citizens back home. If programs in Africa are seen to be unsuccessful and failing, it is difficult to justify continued funding in times of budget cutbacks…. If you’re serious about development in Africa, [your program] should work in Uganda. If it can’t work in Uganda, it can’t work [anywhere in Africa]”(Journal of Modern African Studies 1999).

Second, when it came to Museveni and Uganda during much of NRM government, the donor community did not impose political conditionality for continued aid giving as they did to other countries like Kenya, Malawi and Rwanda. This was the case because Museveni was increasingly becoming a reliable partner to western interests. Museveni provided Uganda as a regional hub for logistical support and for bilateral relations in the Horn and Great Lakes regions. In order to maintain this cordial relation, donors refrained from imposing political conditionality lest they lose a valuable partner. So what is the result?

According to Ellen Hauser “Uganda is a more divided country today [1999] than it was when NRM came to power in 1986. Corruption is rampant, and regionalism and ethnicity continue to be the usual means of determining who gets what in political and economic arenas… There is an increasing lack of tolerance and cooperation between NRM and Uganda’s other political parties… Much of the blame for this lack of tolerance lies with Uganda political leaders who appear more interested in personal gain than in unity and progress for Uganda. Part of the blame also lies with donor priorities, which assumed that eventual multi-partyism would solve these problems…”(Journal of Modern African Studies 1999).

In contrast, Obote II regime in the early 1980s was criticized for political incorrectness and instability mostly in the Luwero Triangle in central Uganda whereas the NRM did not get condemned for the instability in the north and east of the country. The World Bank cut off aid to the Obote II government apparently for violating human rights. George Kanyeihamba writes “After listening to the address of Kanyeihamba and of the other Ugandans who were critical [of the Obote regime], she [Mrs. Katrine Saito of the World Bank] was visibly shocked to learn about the killings and other gross violations of human rights in Uganda by a government supported as a model by the Bank…. On her return to Washington, Mrs. Saito was among World Bank officials who persuaded the Bank to abandon Obote in favor of Museveni and the NRM” (G. W. Kanyeihamba 2002). Soon after Obote’s government was toppled, Kanyeihamba became a minister in Museveni’s NRM government and Mrs. Saito visited and later worked in Uganda. According to Kanyeihamba (2002), “Mrs. Saito was amongst the very first World civil servants to visit Uganda and work in the Uganda of Museveni and the NRM”.

Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States, Museveni has become a staunch ally of the west in the fight against terrorism, using this opportunity and the 2010 terrorist attack on Uganda to force parliament to pass draconian laws which have taken away Ugandans’ human, political, civil and economic rights. The preparations for 2011 elections have already proven troubling in dividing up the country into yet more uneconomically viable districts and municipalities to create constituencies against the wishes of the people in some areas, and violence at opposition rallies and harassment of opposition presidential candidates has increased. Yet the donor community, Museveni’s staunch supporters, is saying virtually nothing but pumping more money into Uganda supposedly for development purposes when Ugandans believe the money will be used to re-elect Museveni and the NRM in 2011.

Museveni and his party are behaving and acting the way they like with impunity because the donor community needs them and in return can’t do anything that might undermine Museveni and his party’s intewrests. That is the uncomfortable corner the donor community has pushed itself into in order to buy Museveni’s support. Ugandans are paying a very high price in political, economic, social and ecological terms. Accordingly, the donor community cannot absolve itself from the suffering of Ugandans. The situation will get worse as donors continue to refrain from applying stiff economic and political conditionality to warn Museveni that business cannot continue as usual.